OPS eyeing middle school reconfiguration

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July 3rd, 2014

Omaha, NE – The Omaha Public School system currently has four middle schools serving fifth through eighth graders: Buffet, King Science, Mars and Morton Middle Schools. Two OPS middle schools serve sixth through eighth grade and the remaining six middle schools serve only seventh and eighth grade.

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There is currently an evaluation of possible changes to the structure of middle schools. OPS is currently mailing surveys to parents to gather opinions about which middle school they would prefer for their child to attend.

Possibilities include remaining at a seventh and eighth grade only school, adding only sixth grade or adding fifth and sixth grade.

Dr. Sara Edwards, chair of teacher education at the College of Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said research is evasive, adding it really comes down to parental preference.

“What’s interesting is there’s’ no clear indication that one configuration is more appropriate when it comes down to test scores,” Dr. Edwards said. “So it really comes down to a facility plan and where is there space for an age appropriate school?”

Mike McCormack said as a product of OPS, he has an inside perspective of what its like in public schools. (Photo Courtesy Brandon McDermott)

Mike McCormack said as a product of OPS, he has an inside perspective of what its like in public schools. (Photo Courtesy Brandon McDermott)

Dr. Edwards said the meaning of what a middle school is has changed.

“In 1970, junior highs were mini high schools,” Dr. Edwards said. “At that time there was a shift in thinking of ‘we need to have age appropriate schools for middle school kids. Middle school is really different from junior high in that a middle school has a team to help foster students’ progress from junior high towards high school.”

Carla Noerrlinger, executive director of the research division for OPS, agreed with Dr. Edwards on the complexity of middle schools.

“Middle schools are established to meet not just academic needs of the pre-adolescent middle learner, but also their emotional and developmental needs,” Noerrlinger said.

Noerrlinger also agreed with Dr. Edwards, that the school structure from the principal to the teachers, are important when helping students transition from elementary to middle school. Dr. Edwards said family involvement is important when it comes to student development.

“It depends so much on the teachers and on the building leadership and the curriculum much more so than whether a sixth grader is with a seventh grader or a fifth grader,” Dr. Edwards said.

Mike McCormack, a parent of two OPS students, said his nephew goes to Otte Middle School in Blair, Neb., which schools sixth through eighth graders.

Otte middle school is not an OPS school.

McCormack said his nephew faced issues with bullies, and he is worried about the chances of his son being bullied.

“There were other situations in which he was bullied around, it was by older kids, and he is a heavier boy,” McCormack said. “My son, he is little and a sensitive guy. I don’t think I would necessarily want him going to middle school, with that type of environment, at that age.”

McCormack, 28, graduated from Omaha Benson High School after 12 years in OPS. He said his son has already dealt with bullying in elementary school and he is worried about the possibility of it once his sixth grade son goes to school with older kids.

“Like when he told me ‘the kids were punching me in the bathroom,’ I said, ‘were you telling them to stop?’ He said ‘yes’ and I said ‘when someone is punching you, you guard your face.’” McCormack said. “Maybe it was because he was interacting with older kids and they knew he could get pushed around.”

McCormack said he has fears of his child being bullied or not being mature enough to interact with older students, but he said he is confident in his teachings to both his children.

Dr. Edwards said in the right settings with proper schooling, sixth graders can learn the ways of middle school life. She said this will prepare them for high school.

“Sixth grade is one of those groups where it is on the verge of leaving the elementary and heading in the junior highs, but with the emergence of middle school, sixth graders really fit well into the middle school concept,” Dr. Edwards said.

Noerrlinger said OPS have received nearly 3,000 completed surveys from parents and no decision has been made regarding grade level reconfiguration.

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